Black and white photo of double-storey building with arched doorway. Sign over archway reads 'Victorian Artists' Society' East Melbourne, Victorian Artist’s Society, Albert St., 1969, photo by J.T. Collins; H95.200/933

This year the Victorian Artists’ Society, East Melbourne, celebrates its 150th anniversary. The society is a home to aspiring and professional artists and art lovers, with regular exhibitions, art classes and workshops.

The Victorian Artists’ Society had its beginnings in 1870, when a small group of artists formed the Victorian Academy of the Arts. Among the founders were Louis Buvelot, Joseph Anderson Panton, Thomas Clark and Hubert de Castella.

Oil painting of the Grampians at sunset, with a miner at work in the foreground[View of mountains at Stawell, during gold-digging days], oil painting by Joseph Anderson Panton, who was one the founders of the Victorian Artists’ Society; H81.41

Black and white photo portrait of Louis Buvelot Louis Buvelot, one of the founding members of the Victorian Artists’ Society;  H13839

In 1873, the founders secured a crown land grant for an allotment at 430 Albert Street, East Melbourne, and built a small bluestone building on the site.  

According to the Australian Architectural Index compiled by architectural historian, Professor Miles Lewis, the building was a one-storey room, 47 feet by 30 feet by 20 feet high (14.3 m by 9.1 m by 6 m). The date of building is given as 26 September 1873. The builder was Corben & Stuart.

The original bluestone building can be seen in this lithograph from 1889:

Colour lithograph showing Victorian Artists' Building in streetscape in 1889Panoramic view of Fitzroy , Melbourne, Victoria, detail from lithograph showing the original Victorian Artists’ Society building, 1889; H4634

In 1886 the professional artist members of the academy, led by Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Charles Conder, formed a professional organisation known as the Australian Artists’ Association. The same year, the association held its first exhibition, with works by Tom Roberts, Louis Buvelot, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton.

The Victorian Academy of Arts and the Australian Artists’ Association amalgamated in 1888 under the name of the Victorian Artists’ Society. The founding president of the new society was Joseph Anderson Panton. Later presidents included Frederick McCubbin and Paul Raphael Montford.

 In 1892, the East Melbourne site was transformed when architect Richard Speight designed the existing two-storey building in the Romanesque style. The engraving from 1892 (below) shows the layout of the new building, with a large central staircase, upper galleries and a balcony looking onto Albert Street. The original bluestone studio was incorporated into the building.

Shows the exterior of new two-storey building, new staircase in centre of the building, a glimpse of the balcony from the doorway, illustration of a painting titled 'Death of Burke' by Arthur LoureiroVictorian Artists’ Society, 1892; IAN01/07/92/4

Although the building has been modernised since 1892, the original 1873 studio and the 1892 staircase, galleries and balcony have been retained. A lift has been added.

Amazingly, the 1873 studio is still used for art classes and workshops today. You can learn to paint in the same studio used by Streeton, McCubbin and other famous 19th century artists! Regular exhibitions are held in the galleries.

(Due to the coronavirus pandemic, classes and exhibitions in 2020 have been cancelled. See the Victorian Artists’ Society website for details).

State Library Victoria holds a large collection of Victorian Artists’ Society exhibition catalogues.

Cover image of 1928 Victorian Artists' Society exhibition catalogueFront cover of Victorian Artists’ Society Spring Exhibition catalogue, 1928

Colour photo of plaque on the wall at the Victorian Artists' Society listing the names of past presidents Plaque at the Victorian Artists’ Society listing the presidents from 1870 to today

The Library holds the records of the Victorian Artists’ Society from 1856 to 2003 in the Manuscripts collection. Records include correspondence, minute books, notes, financial records, invitations, catalogues, annual reports and more. Also included is a minute book, 1856-1857, of the earlier Victorian Society of Fine Arts.

You can find other publications relating to the Victorian Artists’ Society on our catalogue.


Victorian Artists’ Society website, viewed 4 September 2020

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This article has 10 comments

  1. Hi Barbara
    Is there any references to Esther Mullett from Hawthorn.
    Landscape painter late 1800s
    Died in 1930s

    • Barbara Carswell

      Hi Linda,

      Thank-you for your interest in the blog. I’ll put your query on our Ask a Librarian form and a librarian will respond there.

      • Thanks for this summary of the VAS. When you get access to your print records again it would be great to add more social and critical context to this blog. This could include the role of art in society, the social and monied networks of the VAS and its implicit and explicit views on what art is. This could then allow a discussion of its place in relation to the various dissenting groups that formed over the years in opposition to the VAS perspective, eg the Reid’s funded Heidi modern artists. It would be interesting to understand how much this history is still relevant to the current sociopolitical landscape of the VAS and any other art associations on Victoria today.

    • This query has been responded to separately via our Ask a librarian Information service

  2. Hello, thanks for all these fabulous blog posts. So many wonderful stories. There does seem to be some confusion about the foundation of the AAA and VAS in this text though.

    The founding Committee of the Australian Artists’ Association in 1886 included Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Julian Ashton and Arthur Loureiro. Arthur Streeton was not a member but he was indeed a founder-exhibitor with the Australian Artists’ Association in September 1886. The first meeting of the professional ‘breakaway’ group planning formation of the AAA was likely held in 1885 in Loureiro’s Melbourne studio. Roberts was certainly a key instigator, inspired by his studies in London until March 1885 (where the progressive New English Art Club also formed in 1886).

    Charles Conder was most definitely not a founder member of the AAA. He was living, working and exhibiting in Sydney until 1888 and never exhibited with Melboume’s AAA. He first exhibited in Melbourne, with the VAS, in November 1888.

    • Barbara Carswell

      Hi Jane,

      I am glad you are enjoying the blogs. Due to the coronavirus shutdown of the State Library, we are unfortunately not able to consult our print resources at this time. My information on the founders of the Victorian Artists’ Society was obtained from the Victorian Artists’ Society website My apologies if there are any inaccuracies.

  3. Hello again, Apologies, George Rossi Ashton, not Julian Ashton on the inaugural AAA Committee (Julian had already moved to Sydney).

    I believe John Mather, John Ford Paterson, Ugo Catani, English artist Walter Spong and the sculptor Percival Ball were all founding committee members of the AAA along with Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, George Ashton and Arthur Loureiro.

    Other founder-exhibitors included Alice Chapman, Elizabeth Parsons and Marian Ellis Rowan.

  4. Thanks Barbara. That makes sense. Please don’t think to apologise. I think the website took that line from their 1970 anniversary book, The Gallery on Eastern Hill — long before we had the wonders of online research

    I’m pretty sure the AAA catalogues, or some of them, have lists of exhibitors and council members — for one day when they’re accessible again!

    There’s a pretty comprehensive review of the first AAA show in September 1886 in The Argus, 7.9.1886, p. 7, naming a (sometimes surprising) range of artists and a number more women. Unfortunately the founding committee and the exhibition’s “committee of selection, composed of three artists and three non-professional gentlemen” are unidentified! Also The Age, 8.9.86, p. 6; and of course more tidbits in Trove.
    Best wishes.

  5. Why has your history not mentioned Oswald Rose Campbell as the Societies 1st President ? except the Honour Board picture. I own an early portrait picture painted by him of a young child l’m willing to sell.

  6. Barbara Carswell

    Hi Greg, This blog was written when we were in lockdown, with no access to State Library resources in the building. Hence we were restricted in what information we could find. As you have noted, the name of Oswald Rose Campbell appears on the Honour Board photo I took. If you would like to make a collection offer, we have a form at Click on the green “Make a collection offer” box. Pictures staff would be happy to discuss your offer.

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